G2K's classes are all pass/fail, so it's nothing like the rigor of qualitative analysis for my Lehigh thesis. But it's still been a stretch as I try to decipher rapidly spoken words and remember them long enough to type them up. Rewind. Replay. Repeat.
Each of my eight classmates and I have a different speech act to research, such as comforting someone, correcting a misunderstanding, or warning someone. My topic is persuasion. Before interviewing, I created three scenarios requiring persuasion:
1. You and a friend, Chenda, are invited to your mutual friend Neary's wedding. You don't know many other guests, so you want Chenda to go with you. But s/he's not convinced s/he wants to attend. How would you persuade him or her to join you? (The name "Chenda" can be used for either gender, so I assigned Chenda the gender of the person I was interviewing.)
2. Your younger brother has a long-time friend named Kosal. But lately Kosal has been getting drunk, doing drugs, and sometimes stealing money. He always wants your brother to join him for these activities. How would you persuade your brother to stop hanging out with Kosal?
3. Your boss just announced that your company is hiring. Your sibling is interested in applying, and you think s/he would be a great fit there. How would you persuade your boss to consider hiring your sibling?
For each scenario, I asked these questions:
a. What would you say?
b. What would you do? (ex. body language, tone of voice, actions)
c. What would not be OK for you to say or do?
d. How might your approach change according to the listener's age, gender, and social status? (For example, in scenario 2, what if you were persuading your younger sister or an older sibling? Does it matter if your boss is male or female?)
|I interviewed 4 males and 5 females, ages 22 to 64,|
with various jobs and education levels
All three scenarios have yielded intriguing responses, but the topic that inspired the most reflection for me is the first one, about Neary's wedding. A G2K teacher helped me create a role play that we'll perform in my presentation next week. Most of the "me" lines are direct quotes taken from interviews.
|Part of my role play - I need to finish typing it in Khmer|
Here's a rough English translation:
Me: Hey Chenda! Did you get an invitation to Neary’s wedding?
Chenda: Yeah, I did.
Me: Are you going?
Chenda: I’m not sure.
Me: Why not?
Chenda: Money’s kind of tight right now.
Me: C’mon, you should go! You can always earn more money, but you can’t earn back your reputation. Neary’s been our close friend for a long time. If she invited us, she’s counting on us to show up. We need to make time to go encourage her and show her we love her. She’s only going to get married once in her life.
Chenda: It’s just so hard!
Me: If you don’t go, I won’t have anyone to go with, so I’ll have to go by myself. And you won’t be able to look Neary in the eye again. Don’t just throw away her friendship like that. Don’t you want her to come to your wedding someday? Don’t let her down.
Chenda: But I can’t afford to buy a new dress and get my hair and makeup done.
Me: You can borrow a dress and shoes from me - no need to buy them new. And I’ll do your hair and makeup.
Chenda: How are you getting there?
Me: On a tuk-tuk.
Chenda: Then could I go with you? I need a ride.
Me: Sure! It’s better riding with two people than all by myself, because it will be safer coming back at night.
Chenda: But my house is far away on a dark, quiet road. I’m afraid it won’t be safe going home.
Me: If you’re worried about that, just spend the night at my house. It’s on a busier road close to the wedding.
Chenda: That works then. What time should we go?
Me: I’ll come to your house at 2 and we can do hair and makeup together. When we’re ready we’ll leave around 5.
|At a friend's wedding in December|
Obviously most respondents didn't use quite that many forms of persuasion. And none of them mentioned doing Chenda's hair and makeup for her, though two females mentioned lending her a dress. (I've heard it's embarrassing to wear the same dress to more than two weddings, even in different social circles or years. Women are expected to expected to have professional-looking hair and makeup; fake hair is an option, and fake eyelashes are normal.) While several women mentioned the safety of riding together or spending the night, none of the men did. But almost everyone used the line about weddings being once in a lifetime, and most people also said that Neary was counting on Chenda to be there.
|Getting our hair done for a Khmer photo shoot in 2015|
But to my surprise, everyone assumed that Neary was a close friend, or at least spoke as if she were. They felt she'd been intentional about inviting those that were dearest to her, even though she and her family would likely distribute 3-400 invitations to relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and classmates. Still, a couple people told me, "For a funeral, anyone can come. For a wedding, the couple carefully considers the guest list." Since there are no RSVP's, the couple pays for all the guests' food and drink whether or not that many guests come. It brings shame to them and their families if a lot of tables remain empty. On the other hand, I learned that if you get only a verbal invite and not a fancy envelope, you shouldn't feel obligated to go or pay. It can even be an insult, implying that the host doesn't think you can afford to cover your dinner.
I started asking later respondents, "Would you say these things in real life? Or are you just using all these arguments because I told you to persuade Chenda?" They all answered, "Yes, we've really said or heard these arguments." One even told me, "A wedding is the most important day of a person's life. Until you get married, Khmer culture doesn't really value you." That was revealing.
This assignment also highlighted the importance of reciprocity in Khmer culture. Why does the family keep track of all the gifts given? It's not to write thank-you notes. Later on, the couple is obligated to give at least that much when you invite them to a wedding for yourself or your child. Your attendance and contribution is quite literally an investment into your friendship, one that can't be replaced by quality time or homemade food. That's why, even though money is a constant concern for many Cambodians, they'll shell out big bucks, rearrange plans, and trek across the country to show up and look the part at weddings - not just of their very best friends, but of quite a few people in their social circle.
That's not a natural way for me to see it. My default is to view fake eyelashes as a frivolous nuisance, not a symbol of my undying loyalty to the bride, groom, and their families. But even though I wish there were less financial pressure on my Khmer friends - especially females - shifting perspectives helps me appreciate the "why" behind their efforts. They're prioritizing relationships and community. After all, you only marry once.